The Recovering Addict–Stages of Healing

The recovering addict has already accomplished a great deal by the time they leave rehab and has grown through a great many challenges. Recovery can be seen to start long before withdrawal and detox. Even in active addiction, we transform little by little, deciding that substance use is a problem, for example. Then, becoming ‘sick and tired of being sick and tired’. Eventually, we work through our denial enough to take action and seek help. Within this process are many other things we accomplish. For instance, we face the fear of giving up substance use, and eventually, take action to do so anyway. Anyone that has made the journey from active addiction to rehab can relate to the long process of preparation that started deep in active addiction.

Withdrawal and Detox is a Profound Turning Point

While all the steps we take to get to rehab are important, usually most will say that the withdrawal and detox process was a significantly meaningful and memorable one. Withdrawal and detox is not only a physical process but affects us emotionally, mentally and spiritually as well. It can be thought of as a holistic withdrawal process. We let go of toxicity in our physical bodies and we release the emotions and thoughts that support our substance use. As we do all of this, we are steadily more able to reconnect with spiritual energies and practices.

Letting go on these various levels will profoundly change us. And, as we stop using, a great deal of these changes simply occur as long as we are abstinent. The brain and body are able to heal and begin their restoration as soon as the toxic substances leave the system. There are, however, conscious things we can do to accelerate our healing and growth such as eating well, getting adequate rest, exercising and practicing skills such as stress management, emotional management, and healthy social engagement. Withdrawal and detox are significant turning points for the recovering addict on many levels, far more complex and restorative than we can discuss here.

The Recovering Addict and Treatment

Of course, withdrawal and detox are technically ‘treatment’, and for your physical and psychological safety should be medically supervised. However, many make the distinction between that process and the counseling that occurs after, calling the rest of a rehab experience ‘treatment’.¬† Treatment occurs in rehab and after, addressing the many stages of change the recovering addict goes through.

A great deal needs to be done in rehab once the body is chemical free, and the mind is clearer. Individual, group and family counseling sessions address a diversity of important issues: how to manage thoughts and emotions, how to understand the addictive illness and its damages; how to envision a substance-free life, build the skills necessary to maintain one, and how to establish healthy relationships. Of course, whatever ordinary life brings when one is finished with rehab–work, school, home management, friendships, marriage, parenting…–all of these things have to be managed in ways that maintain sobriety, and so counseling in rehab and after are both important.

Overwhelm and the Recovering Addict

One of the most difficult to manage feelings for the recovering addict is the feeling of being overwhelmed. Sobriety seems a daunting task when viewed as a long and endless road one must travel for the rest of life. And, though this is not a helpful perspective by any means, many people in early recovery seem to take this agonizing view.

The 12 Step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous (AA and NA) offer a wise solution to such overwhelm. Their popular slogan, one day at a time, reminds us that life is manageable if we stay in the present. Every day when we wake up with have today before and to deal with. Raising our sights too far beyond that results in fear, anxiety, dread, worry, and feelings of being overwhelmed.

If we think of ourselves as having to stay sober forever, we instantly overwhelm ourselves. If we think of staying sober for 24 hours, we contain the things we have to worry about. We become more present in the here and now, and the reality of our lives. We don’t get distracted by imaginings of an arduous future with no relief in sight. Also, when we are new to recovery, we naturally think that the rest of our sober days will be as difficult as the first few. It isn’t so, of course, and all we have at those worrisome, dread-filled moments is faith. We can look at others further down the road of recovery, and see hope if we look closely. We can also gather the courage to continue on because if they could do it, so can we.

The Recovering Addict–Healing the Relationship with Self

One of the most challenging tasks before a recovering addict is the need to heal the relationship with self. It is difficult because a deep self-loathing is common among people with addictions. They have been at the mercy of compulsive drug use in which no degree of willpower, decisiveness or effort has stopped substance use. And, typically, people with addictions come to believe they are less than other people, inherently flawed and damaged as people. In short, they commonly feel less than human when in reality they are simply people with a devastating illness.

One of the most difficult things to reconcile is the harm that was done to others during active addiction. A great of harm is done unintentionally in addiction because loved ones suffer watching an addict suffer. However, there are also things done intentionally that harm others during addiction such as deceit, manipulation, lying and stealing. All of this causes an overwhelming burden of guilt, shame, remorse, and regret, reinforcing self-loathing.

The recovery process brings an ongoing opportunity to resolve these issues, but it is not a ‘one and done’ situation. More typically, it is a gradual healing that involves understanding the dynamics of addiction, making amends to others, and progressive levels of self-compassion and self-forgiveness.

The Recovering Addict and Relationships with Others

The recovery process presents a significant challenge in repairing damaged relationships, and also in establishing new relationships that will support recovery efforts. Strained or damaged relationships are difficult to confront–again due to shame, guilt, remorse, and regret. However, counseling and self-help groups like AA and NA (Alcoholics and Narcotics) offer support and guidance in repairing damaged relationships and establishing new ones.

A difficult issue for those in recovery is that even despite best efforts, others may not respond to efforts to repair their relationship. The recovering person must resolve that efforts to make amends may not have positive results. Relationships can be lost despite the recovering person’s efforts to salvage them.

The Recovering Addict and Spiritual Recovery

Addiction takes a great toll in one’s life and in the lives of an addict’s loved ones. Life can become chaotic and meaningless with standards of conduct, morals and ethics falling away under the burden of compulsive drug use. A recovering addict begins to reclaim a meaningful and purposeful life. Gradually, an orderly direction of life is established in daily affairs and one can live congruently with one’s behavior in alignment with one’s own values and most deeply held beliefs.

Finding One’s Place in the Community

The recovery process overall helps one find one’s place in the world. Beginning with physical recuperation, one moves through many layers of recovery, restoring health that was lost, and building healthy life skills perhaps never had before. The ultimate goal of addiction recovery is that one leads a healthy and successful life free of active addiction, with the ability to make choices and take action unimpeded by an addictive process. This freedom is at the crux of recovery and returns manageability to one’s life. To sustain recovery, a good relapse prevention plan is needed and should be reviewed and reworked as the various levels of recovery occur.

Healing as a Holistic Endeavor

It is tempting to think of addiction recovery as simply not taking drugs and remaining drug-free. Of course, abstinence is an essential, but recovery happens on so many levels of one’s life that physical recovery is not enough. An addictive illness has emotional, mental, behavioral, social and spiritual aspects that all support taking addictive substances. The pervasive nature of the illness is directly reflected in the pervasive nature of recovery from it. Just as the addiction gradually builds and spreads its consequences to many aspects of life, so recovery gradually builds and restores various aspects of life.

If You Need Help, or a Loved One Does

If you or a loved one has a substance problem, it may be time for treatment. However, you may still be in the process of preparing to go. It is important to take action, and really, no one can do that for you despite how encouraging and supportive of you they are. It is thought that the preparation for treatment can look like fits and starts and repeated failures, but it is really a process of surrendering to the need for treatment. It seems that many people must indeed become sick and tired of being sick and tired in order to finally accept the help they need.

If this is the time for you or your addicted loved one to get help, we can help you find appropriate options for your particular clinical needs, preferences and financial situation. Give us a call today for a free consultation. We will help clarify your situation and make recommendations for effective and viable treatment options.